Beginning work on a follow-up to his Grammy-winning album, "Love Is My Religion," Ziggy Marley found he was increasingly drawn to composing songs aimed primarily at children.
The oldest son of Bob Marley and father to five children, the reggae star felt inspired to focus on little ones, knowing the importance of positive music in their growth and development.
"It's the importance of children in the big scheme of things," says Ziggy about his new album project "Family Time." "If the music that we do is for the purpose that we say, then we have to talk to the children. I figured out whomever or whatever is directing my creativity, my journey in life, wanted me to do this because it's open minds where we can plant the seeds. We're spreading the message of love and peace. And who has the most open, fertile minds? It's children."
'We have to talk to the children. … We’re spreading the message of love and peace. And who has the most open, fertile minds? It’s children.'
A delightful collection of new songs equally enjoyable for both kids and adults "Family Time" debuted at the top of Billboard's reggae album chart. Co-produced by Ziggy and studio wiz Don Was, the record features guest performances by Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Toots Hibbert, Jack Johnson, Paula Fuga, his mother, Rita Marley, sister Cedella, and his young daughter Judah.
Backing musicians included Who bassist Pino Palladino, keyboardist James Poyser (Erykah Badu, Al Green), percussionist Rock Deadrick (Ben Harper, Tracy Chapman) and legendary reggae drummer Santa Davis.
"My wife and I and Don (Was) who produced it, talked about different people who I like and wouldn't mind singing with," Ziggy continues. "Willie Nelson is somebody I love, and Toots Hibbert from Toots and The Maytals, and Jack Johnson. A lot of people I met along the way while I was doing the recording like Elizabeth Mitchell and Laurie Berkner. It was all people I vibed with, it was not a monetary thing."
* Ziggy Marley headlines a reggae festival on Sunday at the War Memorial Stadium. Other artists involved include Joseph Israel, Rovleta Fraser, Blak Diamon, Mysterious, Zion, and Marty Dread. The concert will begin at 3 p.m. and close at 10 p.m. Tickets are $35, and $80 for a VIP package. Tickets available from Request Music in Wailuku, Solid Clothing and Urban City at the Queen Kaahumanu Center, Hana Highway Surf Company and Mana Foods in Paia, West Side Vibes in Lahaina and Holy Smokes in Kihei. An eco-friendly event, all food and beverage service wares will be made from bio-compostable containers.
One of the coolest tracks finds Ziggy singing with country legend Willie Nelson on an uplifting, reggae/gospel updating of Woody Guthrie's "This Train," a song his dad adapted with the Wailers back in the mid-1960s.
" 'This Train' is an old Wailers song," he notes. "But when we did it with Willie he did a different version I had never heard before with some gambling and stuff like that. He was on tour and we did it in a hotel room in San Diego. Willie's cool, Willie is like my grandfather, Willie is like family. I respect him like I respect my grandparents. Working with him was very natural."
Hawaii's Jack Johnson and Paula Fuga join Ziggy on "Cry, Cry, Cry," a moving, acoustic guitar backed song that encourages kids to express themselves.
"I like Jack's vibes,' he says. "We met once before and he told me when he was young he was listening to 'Tomorrow People.' He had done some children's stuff, so it was appropriate. He asked about Paula, and I said it was fine."
With its stellar musicianship and focus on the themes of love, responsibility, unity, freedom and fun, "Family Time" ranks as one of the most inspired kids' recordings ever released. Proceeds from the sale will help disadvantaged children at Jamaica's Chepstowe Basic School.
"I hope kids get to grow with it because there are multiple layered messages," he says. "But just enjoy the music and as you go along you'll pick up the concepts and vibe and eventually understand certain things more. It's like an introduction to the concepts and ideas we have."
In late June, Ziggy released another children's album, "B is for Bob," a collection of his father's classic tunes that he rearranged, adding new instrumentation with kids in mind. A must for reggae fans of all ages, this appealing compilation features remixes of songs like "Three Little Birds," "Redemption Song," "Jamming," "Small Axe" and "Stir It Up," along with some untouched gems including "Could You Be Loved" and "Lively Up Yourself."
"The record label was planning to put out a kids CD, basically repackaging the old songs, so I said instead of doing that, let me get the masters and give the kids something unique, something totally for them," Ziggy explains. "I was already focusing on children, so it was easy to make something with Bob and children."
Adding more of an acoustic setting to some songs and including xylophone and a children's chorus, Ziggy completely reinvents "Jamming," with a transformative remix propelled by conga drumming. "I thought let's jam like back before we had electric equipment, the real roots of jamming is drumming and maybe a guitar," says Ziggy.
Bonus online content such as coloring pages, activities and a sing-a-long video are included with the CD, plus a year's subscription to Parents Magazine.
Of all Bob Marley's offspring, Ziggy most resembles his legendary father in terms of raw talent, creative vision and utopian spiritualism. Continuing his father's legacy as a messenger of truth Ziggy continues to encourage hope and consciousness, while crafting engaging music that sometimes veers from conventional roots reggae.
"I've already had the calling, but I feel more serious about it, I really understand my purpose," he reports. "Back in the day I wouldn't travel as much as I do now. This thing needs to be out there, and it's not about my comfort.
"My biggest purpose right now is to spread love. I learned this from Yeshuwah (Jesus), who is one of my teachers. The message is love; it's the message of the source of life. It's the only thing. You can complicate it with rituals and ceremonies, but it's basically love. So that's my job right now to get people back on the right track because we're on the wrong track. Everybody can do it differently; we all have an individual relationship with this love. There are no rules, it's not a religion as we know it where there's a book and rules. You just have to use your own experiences and life to reach this place. But you have to have an open mind. If you're locked down in an ideology you're closed off to the truth. Don't lock down yourself in any ideology because there's more, what we know is not even half of it yet."
In these fractured times when fundamentalist ideology seems to be gaining ground around the world, does he feel hopeful about our future?
"The future is what we make it," he responds. "I'm neither hopeful nor not hopeful. I'm happy any way. One way or other we'll solve the problem. If we destroy each other, that will solve the problem. If we love each other, that will solve the problem too. I can't stop anyone; I can just do what I am here to do."
His own future plans include "working on an ultimate documentary on my father, and I have a kid's book and an animation series project."
And any news on an album project that would involve all his brothers?
"Oh yeah, we've had that idea for 20 years," he answers laughing. "I was talking to Steve about it the other day. I think it's coming up in a couple of years."
Of all his accomplishments Ziggy says he feels most proud about, "being independent, finally standing on my own two feet. I feel good because it was my father's dream. We learned it from when we were very young, as a little boy growing up in Jamaica. We had to cook our own food and wash our own clothes, we grew up that way. I finally own my own music and some of my publishing."
Striving for independence has led this multitalented artist to explore musical influences beyond the Caribbean, including most recently various African rhythms.
"The idea of what is reggae - I don't know who knows the answer to this question," he concludes.
"I am a creator of reggae music, I was born in it, I've grown in it, I live in it. Who has the right to say what it is and what it is not? As an artist, the foundation of all my music is what we call reggae. And reggae is a living music, it's not stagnant. The elements may sound a little different and or maybe put in a different place, but to me the foundation is still reggae music, it's just that you're not used to hearing it this way. When I play music I don't think about reggae, I just play naturally, and I'm a musician who is open to all music in the world. To me everything is part of reggae music. To me reggae is a spirit; it's more of a vibe. So don't follow the instrumentation too much, but follow the vibe."
On his "Family Time" U.S. tour Ziggy has been setting aside time for special children's concerts. At 11:30 Sunday morning, children and their parents are invited to attend a "Family Time Party" with Ziggy at the Maui Prince Hotel Ballroom in Makena. The event is a benefit for Pacific Whale Foundation's "No Child Left Indoors" fund that helps disadvantaged island children participate in environmental field trips, regardless of their family's financial situation.
The Maui-based group Gamekids will also perform, and Pacific Whale Foundation's marine education team will be provide activities for children at the party.
* Tickets are $5 for children ages 3 through 12, and $8 for their parents or adult caregivers. Kids under the age of 2 may attend for free. To purchase tickets, call 249-8811 ext. 1. Because seating is limited advance booking is recommended.
The Maui Prince Hotel has donated the use of its facility for this event, and Thompson Productions has donated the sound equipment. No coolers allowed, but snacks, lunch items will be available for sale.